Billy’s Bass Among The Blues

Beneath a springtime evening rainbow, a striper for the ages emerged from a bonanza of bluefish.

GYOTAKU: The Japanese art of fish rub printing.

There’s a section of Billy’s wall at home that has been officially unadorned for years. It’s at the far end of his dining room where there’s a lovely painting hanging now. But that’s a mere stand-in. In truth, Billy’s longtime vision has been a Japanese style Gyotaku — an inked rubbing of a large striped bass — in that space. Original artwork based on a fish that Billy would catch himself. A keeper about 40 inches long would suit the location handsomely.

This week, Billy may have caught the fish that could fill that void.

MOCK COVER: Real keeper.

Now Billy is no stranger to catching striped bass—large and small, day or night, spring, summer and fall. He didn’t get the reputation of Bucktailin’ Billy Black for nuthin. Billy took up surfcasting about 10 years ago with aplomb. In 2010, he was acclaimed on a mock cover of a national fishing magazine. His young son, shopping a local tackle shop for his dad’s Christmas gift, sought a suggestion for something suitable. “Who’s your Dad?” asked the tackle shop owner. Said the boy: “He’s Billy. You know. The Saltwater Sportsman Surfcasting Rookie of the Year. Don’t you know him?”

If there were real awards for surfcasters, Billy would deserve many. If only for his latest achievement. This year’s late spring bluefish run was in full glory on Montauk’s north side on a recent June evening. Billy was in the picket fence-line of surfcasters horsing in large-headed hungry racer blues from a rip on the outgoing tide. The pick was so steady, you could simply cast out your lure and a bluefish would pummel it in a split second. “The plug was like a fish-magnet,” said Billy. “It got silly after a while.”

The bite began as if someone threw a switch at 645pm. For an hour, poles bent in chorus line synchrony to hungry blues in the 5 to 12 pound range. The setting sun cast a golden sheen upon some two dozen anglers. A rainbow appeared to the east. Rain clouds moved in from the west. And the banzai bluefish bonanza played on. Everyone got well.

Just before sundown, Billy’s bass hit hard. After about a score of bluefish caught and released, Billy hooked into a fish unlike the others. It took the same lure he had been throwing all evening: a white 2 3/8 ounce Super Strike popping plug. The fish attacked about half way through Billy’s retrieve. “I didn’t do anything much different,” he confessed. I worked the lure slowly, and added a slight roll when I popped the plug.” At the strike, Billy knew immediately he was into something different. Something good. Something long-awaited.

THE RAINBOW BASS: A fish for the ages plucked from among a bluefish bonanza; released to swim another day. (pc: Verizon Charlie)

“I felt a thud and the fish took my plug straight down,” Billy recalled. His rod went parallel to the cold Montauk water as the fish used the current to fight hard against Billy’s retrieve. Billy struggled to keep the fish in front of him. Eventually, he saw the its dorsal fin and knew this was no monster bluefish. This was the holy grail. A springtime keeper bass.

The fish was landed, photographed and released. It was neither weighed or measured. But it was certainly 36 inches or more, and well above 20 pounds, likely 25 or more. “It was fat, with girth and a big head,” Billy said. He thinks it was the biggest fish he ever caught.

Legally, that fish had to go back in the drink. New slot rules make it mandatory this year to release any striper more than 35 inches. Billy ordinarily released all his catch, waiting only for that one fish whose imprint would look so good up on his dining room wall. The bad news is that catch will never come thanks to the new law. But the good news is that trophy rainbow bass swims another day to procreate, so that Billy and others can catch and release even more stripers in the seasons ahead. 

PICKET FENCE FISHERMEN: On an early June evening, everyone got well.
IN THE GLOAMING: Neither Montauk’s chilly waters, nor threatening storm clouds stayed these surfcasters from their appointed casts.
SPRINGTIME SUNSET: The fish bite began like someone threw a switch.  (pc: Verizon Charlie)

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